Own This City: Origami Holiday Tree
- Time Out New York, 11/18/2009

Gawk at 26 paper creatures—one for each letter of the alphabet—hung on the American Museum of Natural History’s tree. By Audrey Tempelsman

A An apatosaurus (“deceptive lizard”) is a dinosaur with a distinctively long neck and tail, once known as the brontosaurus. Its skeleton, which now stands in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, has been on view in the museum since 1905. The 50-step origami apatosaurus was designed by John Montroll and is a folding favorite. Ros Joyce is the co-designer of this year’s tree and a longtime volunteer for AMNH and OrigamiUSA (which commissions and folds the annual ornaments). She and her colleagues often leave apatosaurus-shaped dollar bills as tips in the museum restaurant. “We get wonderful service when we go back,” she says. “The origami people are very popular.”

M The 11,000-year-old mastodon skeleton now on view at the Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals is a local, having been discovered in 1845 in Newburgh, New York, and acquired by the museum in 1925. It was also the first complete mastodon skeleton found on U.S. soil—its last meal of twigs was found preserved in its rib cage. The intricate, 124-step folding process for the origami mastodon was developed by Satoshi Kamiya, one of Japan’s leading origami masters. It took him eight hours to fold.

N Check out the Nautlius pompilius, or chambered nautilus, in the Hall of Biodiversity. It was collected in Palau, an island group near the Philippines. The bug-eyed creature has a face that only fellow cephalopods (a type of marine mollusk) could love. But Joyce knew that its coiled shell and pearly interior would make a key Christmas tree accessory: “It’s pretty and it’s shiny—what more could you want?” Joyce recommends Kinokuniya (1073 Sixth Ave between 40th and 41st Sts, 212-869-1700) for origami supplies.

H The hippopotamus is not as bumbling or cuddly as it seems. “They have monstrous teeth and are very bad tempered,” says Joyce. Though hippos are mostly herbivores, they will attack when threatened. Fortunately, the origami hippo is a gentle soul: He’s fashioned out of paper that’s been hand-marbled by artist Galen Berry. It’s in honor of the taxidermied hippos of the Upper Nile in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, which were collected in the 1930s by an expedition of researchers in the Sudan. If you stare at them hard enough, they might make you shiver in fear.

“Origami Holiday Tree: Origami, A to Z”: American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St (212-769-5100, amnh.org). Mon 23–Jan 3.